The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: ECM Records finally streams its entire catalogue of award-winning artists and recordings

November 18, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed and award-winning independent label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by the Grammy-winning producer Manfred Eicher (below).

Known for its penchant for the contemporary and even avant-garde, Eicher’s label was nonetheless a conservative hold-out when it came to the newer technology of digital streaming.

The old technology has its points besides superior sound quality. When you got an ECM CD, you usually also got one of their terrific black-and-white photographs, often a square-format landscape, as a cover. (ECM even published a book of its photographic covers.)

But as of this past Friday, ECM finally gave into the inevitable and streamed its entire catalogue. Its rationale was that it was more important for its music and musicians to be heard than to remain loyal to certain platforms.

ECM also cited the pressure from unauthorized uploads to YouTube and bootleg versions of its recordings as the reason for the decision.

So as of yesterday, ECM, which has won many awards for individual titles and artists, will be available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, Tidal and other streaming services.

ECM is known for its popular and critically acclaimed jazz artists including pianist Keith Jarrett (below, of “The Köln Concert” or The Cologne Concert) and saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (“Officium”). But it also included classical chamber music groups such as the Keller Quartet, the Trio Medieval, the Danish Quartet and others.

ECM is also known for championing contemporary classical composers (Arvo Pärt, below, who is the most performed contemporary composer, as well as Tigur Mansurian, Lera Auerbach, Gyorgy Kurtag and Valentin Silvestrov among others) and some outstanding crossover classical musicians, including Jarrett, a jazz great who has also recorded Bach, Handel and Shostakovich on both piano and harpsichord.

The Ear especially likes violist Kim Kashkashian and Harvard pianist Robert Levin (a frequent performer at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival) in sonatas of Brahms. He is also fond of Alexei Lubimov in various piano recitals as well as the many recordings of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Janacek and Robert Schumann by the superb pianist Andras Schiff (below). In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Schiff in a live performance of the Gigue from Bach’s Keyboard Partita No. 3.)

And there are many, many more artists and recordings worth your attention. Here is a link to an extensive sampler on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ECMRecordsChannel

Who are your favorite ECM artists?

What are your favorite ECM recordings?

What ECM downloads do you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: New faculty conductor Chad Hutchinson makes an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra

October 11, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, Chad Hutchinson (below), the new faculty conductor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, made an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

The ambitious program that Hutchinson put together says a lot about his priorities and instincts, and about his confidence in himself and the abilities of his student players, who performed superbly.  

The varied works came from the early 19th century, the mid-19th century, the early 20th century and the 21st century. And it seemed that each piece in the ambitious program was chosen to put the spotlight on a different section – percussion, brass, strings and winds.

Curiously, The Ear found the most successful pieces were the most traditional ones.

The Prelude to the opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by Richard Wagner received the right mix of horn pomp and string zest. It made The Ear realize again how much more he prefers Wagner’s instrumental music to his vocal music. Let’s hear more Wagner preludes, since we are unlikely to hear more Wagner operas.

The orchestral transcription by Leopold Stokowski (below) of the piano prelude “The Sunken Cathedral” by Claude Debussy was the least successful work of the night. This is the second overblown and bombastic Stokowski transcription that The Ear has heard performed live in a month.

Clearly, Stokowski’s aesthetic was Bigger is Better. This particular transcription strips away the mystery, sensuality and subtlety, the watery softness,  of the original. It works more as an etude for orchestra than as an authentic expression of Impressionism.  The Ear’s objections are to the transcription, not to the performance, which was well voiced, precise and tightly controlled.

“Mothership” by the popular American composer Mason Bates (below), who wrote the recent successful opera based on the life of the late Apple guru Steve Jobs, proved an interesting foray into contemporary music culture. It was also the Madison premiere of the 2011 work.

The electronic music in the pulsating and highly atmospheric score, including the computer-generated disco dance beat, highlighted the percussion section and the UW’s new Electro-Acoustic Research Space (EARS), which collaborated with the symphony orchestra.

The dramatic work, a novelty that is pop-infused and resembles music by John Adams a little too closely, has its pleasing and engaging moments. But overall it seems a triumph of style over substance. (You can judge for yourself from the performance with Michael Tilson Thomas in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That said, Hutchinson nonetheless held the complex and coordinated score together, and the young audience seemed to take to the new music — a major achievement in itself.

Expect to hear many more contemporary works from Hutchinson, who says he is an unabashed champion of new music. He will include other living composers in many other concerts, including the next one on Nov. 4 and then again on Feb. 22.  

To these ears, the most impressive performance came in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven. In its day, the difficult and long work proved revolutionary and perplexing. More recently, more than 100 conductors named it the best symphony ever written. You can’t get more establishment than that.

Yet despite being so mainstream, the “Eroica” remains a difficult and challenging work, both technically and interpretively. And this performance succeeded on both counts. That is no small feat for a new conductor and his young students to pull off in the first six weeks of school.

Especially impressive was Hutchinson’s choice to skip any pause between the third movement and the finale. It worked dramatically to maintain momentum. Such exciting attacks should be a more common practice in performing symphonies and concertos as well as chamber music.

Hutchinson seems a congenial and humorous concert hall host. His pre-concert talk (below), which he is slated to do at all performances, was helpful and informative, even if he repeated some major points when he introduced  the actual performances. Hutchinson, intent on expanding the audience for classical music, is worth listening to.

Hutchinson may not possess an especially graceful or fluid podium presence that is pleasing to watch, but he gets results. Certainly both the student players and the large audience (below) seemed pleased and excited by these performances.

In the end, the concert provided plenty of reasons to look forward to hearing more from Chad Hutchinson and seeing how he develops and leaves his mark on programming and performing at the UW.

Were you there as either a performer or an audience member?

What did you think of the concert and of Chad Hutchinson’s debut?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What can you do if your subscription to The Well-Tempered Ear has been dropped – and not by you?

May 24, 2016
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is looking for readers to help him with a problem that some readers of The Well-Tempered Ear have encountered.

It seems some readers have had their subscription ended — WITHOUT them ending it.

That is discouraging for the readers and The Ear, who broke the 1,000 subscriber mark not too long ago and who would love to break 1,100.

Some readers ask The Ear (below) to put them back on the active list. But unfortunately, The Ear has nothing to do with that part of the operation.

And he too doesn’t know why it happens.

But he has his suspicions.

the ear

It could be that there is a new software update on the part of either the reader or the part of the blog host, WordPress.

It could be a newer version of an operating system for readers’ computers, such as OS for Apple Macs or Microsoft Windows for Dell and other PCs.

How can you solve it?

How can you renew your subscription?

So far the best suggestion seems to be this: Unsubscribe and then re-subscribe.

But maybe there are better ways that some readers have discovered.

And maybe WordPress, who is responsible for subscription services, will read this and have explanations and suggestions or outright solutions.

In the meantime, The Ear wants to hear how often the problem has happened and how it was solved.

Please leave word about both frequency and solutions to this problem of cancelled subscriptions in the COMMENTS section.

Thank you for this, and for supporting this blog with your subscriptions as well your reading and replying. They all encourage The Ear to carry on.


Classical music: Are concert halls and opera houses becoming refuges and shelters from the on-line world of the Web and social media?

September 19, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Are concert halls and opera houses becoming refuges and shelters from the on-line world of the Web and social media?

New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) thinks so. He published a long essay this week justifying his view.

tommasini-190

Along the way he also offers other suggestions, from alternative venues to informal dress, for how to increase audiences and attendance. And he thinks that live performances might help regain shortened attention spans.

In terms of the digital world, Tommasini even goes so far as to think that providing a refuge from social media could be selling points for the survival of live performances in concert halls and opera houses.

(Below bottom is an iPad in Carnegie Hall, below top, is a photo by Karsten Moran for The New York Times. Tommasini also discusses smart phones and cell phones.)

carnegiehallstage

iPad photo in Carnegie Hall Karsten Moran NYT

The Ear hopes Tommasini might be right, but fears he might be naïve – especially when it comes to younger audiences.

The Ear thinks that the new media may well end up being more powerful than such old media as opera and classical music. He suspects that concert halls and opera houses will end up accommodating and incorporating new media.

But he hopes he is wrong.

What do you think?

And how do you view Tommasini’s arguments or ideas?

The Ear wants to hear.

Here is a link to the essay:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/14/arts/music/the-concert-hall-as-refuge-in-a-restless-web-driven-world.html


Classical music: The critics are unanimous — iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and others streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. CDs and vinyl are far better.

July 31, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The critics’ judgments are in and they seem unanimous: iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and other similar streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. In the end, CDs and vinyl LPs are far better than streaming for a quality listening experience.

itunes logo complete

spotify logo

 

pandora logo

The difficulties apparently have to do with engineering and the limits of technology, specifically of the digital compression of sound.

Here are three good and convincing critiques to read:

From The Atlantic magazine:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/the-tragedy-of-itunes-and-classical-music/399788/

From the acclaimed prize-winning music critic Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-anxious-ease-of-apple-music

Alex Ross 2

Here is an analysis from the prolific and always interesting reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas (below), who writes for National Public Radio (NPR) and its outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence. She tackles other streaming services including Pandora and Spotify. She focuses on the organization and the difficulty of finding the music you want to listen to:

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/04/411963624/why-cant-streaming-services-get-classical-music-right

anastasia tsioulcas


Classical music education: Can apps and MOOCs help save classical music? Pianist Jonathan Biss will teach Beethoven’s piano sonatas to 30,000 “students” and pianist Stephen Hough has created a fascinating Liszt app.

August 31, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

After Labor Day, the school year, for both K-12 and high education, will officially start.

Imagine walking into a classroom or lecture hall with more than 30,000 students.

That is what the acclaimed young pianist Jonathan Biss (below) who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia – the most selective higher educational institution in the country, according to one report – faces when he tackles his first course on the 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. (Several seasons ago, Jonathan Biss turned in a superb performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 467, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

That Biss will reach so many clasiscal music fans is thanks to a MOOC – a “Massive Open Online Course.”

jonathan biss at piano jillian edelstein

Using the firm Coursera, Biss’ course on the Beethoven sonatas will start this Tuesday, Sept. 3. There is still time to register as you can see below.

(Biss is recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas for Onyx Classics, which will release volume 3 this fall. The Ear finds his performances extraordinary and convincing. You can hear Biss in an interview on the PBS “Newshour” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then there is another great pianist, Stephen Hough, the MacArthur “genius grant” winner from the United Kingdom, who has done a special app on Franz Liszt’s legendary Sonata in B minor. That too will allow him to reach many thousands of listeners and new audiences who can follow his playing with the score and his own annotations as well as view his finger playing the virtuosic work. (Hough has performed in Madison in both solo recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and gave a terrific masterclass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.) 

Hough_Stephen_color16

liszt sonata stephen hough app

So The Ear wonders: Will MOOCs and APPs come to the rescue of classical music, which seems increasingly to be losing relevance and popularity?

It could happen.

The possibilities have certainly been treated in the media lately.

Here, for example, is a great story, with a lot of specifics and details, about Jonathan Biss’ Beethoven course and the Stephen Hough’ Liszt app, that was published by The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/arts/music/hey-ludwig-theres-an-app-for-you.html?pagewanted=all

jonathan biss mooc 2

And here is a similar story that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323585604579009041451441648.html

Over 30,000 people have enrolled in the Beethoven course to date: seven times the total number of students who have attended Curtis since the school opened its doors in October 1924.

The five-week course starts this coming Tuesday, September 3, 2013–the first day of Curtis classes–and is aptly named “Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.” Biss has posted recommended reading and listening materials here.

In the course description, Biss writes, “It is not necessary to have studied an instrument or to have any knowledge of music theory to take the course. Rather, it is designed for students of all backgrounds who have a desire to learn more about Beethoven and his world.”

Coursera offers classes that are free of charge and are designed to help the student master the material. A key factor in the design of the Coursera system is the extensive use of interactive exercises. Within videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: the video frequently stops, and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material.

jonathan biss mooc 2

There will also be stand-alone homework that is not part of video lectures. Students can watch Biss’s lectures at their leisure, but the classes are structured with regular deadlines. Each student who completes the course will receive a statement of accomplishment at the end of the series.

Curtis will a launch a second Coursera class in October titled “From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance.” Taught by Jonathan Coopersmith, chair of Musical Studies, and David Ludwig (’01), the Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Chair of Performance Studies and a member of the composition faculty, the course illuminates Western music history through explorations of seminal works over the past six centuries.

As for the Beethoven course by Biss, here is a preview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y134F2WvAGo

And here is a way to sign up for it:

https://www.coursera.org/course/beethovensonatas

You can find Stephen Hough’s Liszt app in the app store of Apple and Google’s Play.


Classical Music: Wisconsin Public Radio’s music app is first-rate and gets five stars. The Ear has it, and so should you. Plus, a viola duo performs a FREE concert of music by Bach, Bartok and Stamitz on Friday.

March 7, 2013
6 Comments

ALERT: This Friday from 12:15 to 1 p.m., the weekly FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Drive, Alexis Carreon (below top, the personnel manager of the Madison Symphony  Orchestra who also plays viola with the MSO) and Marie Pauls (below bottom), with pianist Stacy Fehr Regehr, play duets for viola by J.S. Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 6), Bela Bartok and Carl Stamitz.

Alexis Carreon

Marie Pauls

By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is one of the few remaining public radio stations in the U.S that still highly values classical music and devotes many, many hours per day to it.

WPR Logo

And now if you have smart phone or an iPod Touch, you can take WPR with you.

True, you need wi-fi -– not just regular FM or AM radio reception. But wi-fi is increasingly prevalent and popular in both public and private places.

This app (below) helps solve the problem that I have always had with Apple and its FM radio capability, which for some odd reason, Apple includes only on the iPod Nano right now, not on the more expensive and fancier iPhone or iPod Touch, even though the hardware and software required for FM reception can’t be that big or difficult to include. (And how about getting a photo card slot on the smaller Airbook? Seems to The Ear like a bad and short-sighted decision on Apple’s part.)

Anyway, now if you have to interrupt a broadcast to go grocery shopping or do some other task, you can take WPR with you.

Wisconsin Public Radio app

I have spent some time experimenting with the app.

It is generally clear and easy to use, although the “program” screen didn’t list titles at one point, and then did.

The “Live” screen is, I find the most useful. It features the regular channel for classical music and news; the Ideas channel for talk and call-ins; and the 24-hours a day digital music channel. It has a pause, store and catch-up function. And the app also allows you to explore WPR schedules, state news stories and archives.

I used it while waiting in a dentist’s office. Also, recently I used it on a bus to Chicago and then once I was in Chicago when I couldn’t find something else I wanted. It worked great for not only music but also for “The Midday” stories, quizzes and guests with Norman Gilliland as well as “To the Best of Our Knowledge” and Michael Feldman. It also worked for bringing me  syndicated programs from National Public Radio: “Morning Edition,” “Weekend Edition” and “All Things Considered,” to say nothing of ‘The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor; “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross; “Exploring Music” with Bill McGlaughlin (below); and “From the Top” with Christopher O’Riley.

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

You can download the WPR app for FREE at the iTunes stores for MAC-based devices and at Google Play for Android-based smart phones.

Go ahead, give it a try. You can always delete it you don’t like or it doesn’t meet your expectations.

But I am betting that you will like it and that it will surpass your expectations. The Ear gives the app five stars out of five. If you use it, let me know what you think of the results.

Oh, and there are other radio apps I have that I used to stream classical music over the Internet.

One is the famed WQXR station in New York City. It features live broadcasts from Carnegie Hall that you can also access visa NPR’s blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

WQXR app

Closer to home, you can also try the app for WFMT in Chicago, the home base of Bill McGlaughlin.

wfmt app

Other public radio stations have specialized programs for vocal music, opera, piano music, music history and so on. You can check them out at the various app stores.

Are there radio apps you especially recommend?

The Ear wants to hear – and so, I suspect, do many of his readers.

Let all of us know in the Comments section.

 


Classical music: iTunes lists its Top 30 classical albums. See if you agree and tell us what changes you would make.

February 17, 2013
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is something of interest I just happened to stumble across: iTunes has chosen and published its list of the Top 30 – or Essential 30 – classical recordings of all time.

Mind you: These are not the most popular recordings or the bestsellers.

Apple’s opinion  might not matter so much. But right now, digital downloads outsell real CDs, and the trend looks to continue for a very long time. So that gives the list even more relevance and force. (Below is the iTunes logo.)

iTunes logo

Here is a link, and be sure to read the comments as well as the link to the other Top 50 list that is provided:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/9851996/iTunes-lists-top-30-classical-albums.html

See what you think of their list.

What criticism would you make? (Does anyone detect a bias towards British music? Towards Romantic and early modern music)

What would you change? Delete or add to the list?

And what do you think of iTunes musical judgment?

The Ear wants to hear.

And just maybe Apple does too. (Its logo is below.)

apple logo


Classical music: Would you like to buy Beethoven for a Buck? Try the complete piano sonatas by HJ Lim and the compete symphonies by Daniel Barenboim.

September 14, 2012
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Do you like Beethoven (below)?

Do you like the 9 symphonies? The Ear does.

Do you like the 32 piano sonatas? The Ear likes many of them, although I prefer all five of the piano concertos to most of the symphonies and most of the sonatas.

But a deal’s a deal.

Would you like to buy Beethoven for a Buck?

Try the digital download of the complete 32 piano sonatas by HJ Lim and the compete 9 symphonies by Daniel Barenboim.

Barenboim (below), the child prodigy pianist and former artistic director and conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is a well-known name.

Pianist HJ Lim (below), however, is a new name and has chosen an ambitious way to become known to the public.

She has recorded and released on EMI all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas. It is a monumental feat that was rare once, but is becoming more and more common.

Here is a link to an excellent story about the new Beethoven releases that appeared on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog. By chance, it seems perfectly timed for the just announced new generation of Apple’s iPods and iPhone as well as the update on iTunes that is coming in October.

Be sure to read the reader comments at the bottom of the blog posting.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/16/156843391/beethoven-for-a-buck


Classical music news: GRAND OPERA on a SMALL SCREEN? How well does Apple’s new iPad 3 and the Metropolitan Opera’s new mobile subscription archive app work? Here are the results of a test run.

March 18, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

I stopped by the nearby Apple store of Friday. It’s always a fun place to go. I love the gadgets and I love the service.

This time I just wanted to check out some slick laptop bags for an upcoming trip – which it turns out, they don’t carry anymore. Just my luck.

But even early in the day the place was packed with people lined up and even sitting down outside and waiting.

“Are you looking for an iPad,” I was asked as I entered the store.

“Not yet,” I said, and went about my business.

But clearly Apple – which took such a ribbing, a real drubbing, about the name when the first iPad was announced – is having the last laugh

And it is a big, hearty and very profitable last laugh — now that it is already on there third model of the device,  iPad 3 (below), which is supposed to have super-sharp screen resolution as well as many more features.

Everybody wants in on the fun, it seems.

And that includes the Metropolitan Opera, which has revamped it mobile subscription app to work with iPads.

So, just how does GRAND opera look and sound on a SMALL screen and SMALL sound system?

You can check out a convincing an detailed test run by the perceptive and creative blogger extraordinaire Anastasia Tsioulcas (below), of NPR’s “Delayed Cadence” blog, via this link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/03/15/148666124/the-metropolitan-opera-anytime-and-anywhere-you-want-it

But I would like to know and hear your thoughts on the matter.

Have any Well-Tempered Ears – and Eyes — out there tried the new Met app on an iPad?

How did it work?

What do you think?

Does the model of the iPad matter?

The Ear wants to hear.

And so, I suspect, do the Met and Apple.


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